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Gareth Russell’s “Young and Damned and Fair”

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Title: Young and Damned and Fair

Author: Gareth Russell

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Copyright: April 4, 2017

ASIN: B01CO34HVS

Format: E-Book, 464 Pages, $16.58 [Amazon Hardcover], $14.99 [Kindle], $11.33 [Audible], $17.85 [Barnes & Noble Hardcover], $14.99 [Nook], $14.99 [Google Play], $14.99 [iBooks], $20.95 [iBooks Audiobook]

Summary:

Written with an exciting combination of narrative flair and historical authority, this interpretation of the tragic life of Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII, breaks new ground in our understanding of the very young woman who became queen at a time of unprecedented social and political tension and whose terrible errors in judgment quickly led her to the executioner’s block.

On the morning of July 28, 1540, as King Henry’s VIII’s former confidante Thomas Cromwell was being led to his execution, a teenager named Catherine Howard began her reign as queen of a country simmering with rebellion and terrifying uncertainty. Sixteen months later, the king’s fifth wife would follow her cousin Anne Boleyn to the scaffold, having been convicted of adultery and high treason.

The broad outlines of Catherine’s career might be familiar, but her story up until now has been incomplete. Unlike previous accounts of her life, which portray her as a naïve victim of an ambitious family, this compelling and authoritative biography will shed new light on Catherine Howard’s rise and downfall by reexamining her motives and showing her in her context, a milieu that goes beyond her family and the influential men of the court to include the aristocrats and, most critically, the servants who surrounded her and who, in the end, conspired against her. By illuminating Catherine’s entwined upstairs/downstairs worlds as well as societal tensions beyond the palace walls, the author offers a fascinating portrayal of court life in the sixteenth century and a fresh analysis of the forces beyond Catherine’s control that led to her execution—from diplomatic pressure and international politics to the long-festering resentments against the queen’s household at court.

Including a forgotten text of Catherine’s confession in her own words, color illustrations, family tree, map, and extensive notes, Young and Damned and Fair changes our understanding of one of history’s most famous women while telling the compelling and very human story of complex individuals attempting to survive in a dangerous age.

Review:

For centuries, the six wives of Henry VIII have been the cause of obsessive speculation and endless research. These six women, Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and Catherine Parr have played the parts that history has assigned them. It is no mystery that Henry’s historians and contemporary peers were the ones that recorded the facts of each woman’s life. Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife, is one of the most tragic figures in the chronology of the Tudor dynasty. While she is not as pitied as Katherine of Aragon or revered as Anne Boleyn or as lauded as Jane Seymour, she clearly was a young woman who met such a cruel and unforgiving end. Much like Anne Boleyn (her kinswoman), she ended her life in disgrace as she was stripped of her title (Queen Consort of England), condemned to die, and publicly beheaded before others.

In Gareth Russell’s Young and Damned and Fair, possibly one of the best scholarly works I’ve ever read upon the topic, the author paints a complex and realistic portrait of Catherine Howard. Mr. Russell discusses her childhood under the tutelage of her grandmother, the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk (who was rather careless); her illicit pre-marital relations with several young men; her entrance into the Royal Court in service of Anne of Cleves (Henry’s fourth wife); her eventual marriage to Henry; her adulterous relationship while married to the king; and her heartbreaking downfall.

The author not only weaves a compelling and engrossing narrative about the one whom was once called Henric Rutilans Rosa Sine Spina (Henry’s Rose Without a Thorn), but he provides such immense detail that one almost feels as if he or she is present in Tudor England. The most invigorating prospect for me was not just the wealth of knowledge and the exceptionally-worded novel but the way in which the author elaborated on a young woman who has been entirely obscured by the shadow of her one-time husband, Henry VIII. At this juncture, all we have are records and endless speculations as to events in her life. For once, I actually feel as if I can understand Catherine Howard far better than I ever have in the past. I am not exaggerating when I say that Gareth Russell truly brought Catherine Howard to life.

This is a must-have novel for Tudor enthusiasts. The author’s writing left me spellbound and wanting to read more when I finished Young and Damned and Fair (and this is coming from someone who is more of an Anne Boleyn fan). However, there were moments when I felt that the author seemed to go off on tangents but often they were filled so many fascinating anecdotes that I didn’t mind at all. This is definitely a book I would read again. Do yourself a favor and check out Young and Damned and Fair!

Rating:

1


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